Vice President Joe Biden urged 273 mayors to rally behind the Obama administration's new push for tough control laws on Thursday, saying government at all levels has an "urgent and immediate" call to trample the "epidemic of gun violence."
"I know we don't have absolute unanimity in this ballroom, nor do we in any ballroom," he told the audience at the annual Conference of Mayors in Washington. "We all know...we have to do something, we have to act. I hope we agree there's a need to respond to the carnage on our streets and in our schools."
The president, with Biden alongside, laid out his agenda Wednesday and called on Congress to pass legislation that includes the renewal of the assault weapons ban, a ten-round limit for ammunition magazines, better access to mental health care, and criminal background checks on every gun sale.
President Obama also signed 23 "executive actions" that don't require Congressional approval but stress a need to use federal resources to in part educate the public on gun safety and improve mental health care access.
The vice president's comments Thursday foreshadowed what will likely be a large campaign to promote the president's gun plans to various segments of society, especially as Capitol Hill embarks on what's expected to be a tense, emotional debate.
"This time will not be like times that have come before," he said. "We're going to take this fight to the halls of Congress. We're going to go beyond that. We're going to go around the country to the American people."
With a long history in the Senate of writing crime and gun laws, Biden went into detail in front of the mayors about the recent process to come up with the proposals. Obama appointed the vice president to the task about a month ago, days after the Newtown elementary school massacre.
His approval rating has increased five points since then, according to a CNN/Time/ORC International poll released Wednesday. Besides leading the task force on curbing gun violence, Biden also had a high profile role, along with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, in striking a deal that temporarily averted the country going over the fiscal cliff.
"That tragedy in all my years in public life I think has affected the public psyche in a way that I have never seen before," Biden said, referring to the 20 children killed in the shooting. "The image of first graders not only shot but riddled with bullets."
Over the last month, Biden said his task force spoke with 229 groups or "stakeholders" from both sides of the highly-contentious gun control debate, as well as victims of shootings, entertainment executives, and local lawmakers.
"No group was more consequential or instrumental in shaping of the document we put together for the president than all of you in this room," he told the mayors.
In addition to discussions, Biden said his team spent "literally hundreds of hours" analyzing research by experts at the Justice Department and Homeland Security. "After reviewing just about every idea that had been written up only to gather dust on the shelf of some agency, a set of principles emerged that there was not universal agreement on but overwhelming consensus on."
Among the legislation, Obama is calling for a strengthening of the background check system. His policies would provide guidance on how to make private sellers run background checks on purchasers, require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal system and improve incentives for states to share information with the system.
Biden urged the mayors "to push, push your legislators, push the governors to make these records available."
Appealing to his audience, Biden said the group knew firsthand the impact that guns-which have killed more than 900 people since the Newtown shooting-have on both city streets and in rural areas.
"How many of you mayors have had to attend a funeral of a police officer or an innocent child in a drive by shooting or a shop owner in your city? Many of you, many of you had to attend too many funerals," he said.
But the problem, Biden argued, isn't just about guns or the ability to obtain them. A larger, more pervasive dilemma exists within society that requires measures beyond simply restricting access to firearms.
"This isn't just about guns," Biden said. "It's about the coursing of our culture. Yes, that's what I said. The coursing of our culture. Whether it's with video games, or with movies, or with culture. It's about the ability to access mental health services, and the safety of our schools. It's a very complex problem that requires a complex solution."
Part of that solution is better data, he argued, pointing to a provision in Obama's gun violence proposal that reinstates the ability of the Centers for Disease Control to conduct research on gun deaths in America. The health agency was disallowed from conducting such studies in 1996, when Congressional leaders, backed by the National Rifle Association, stymied the CDC's ongoing investigations.
On Wednesday Obama called on Congress to provide $10 million to the CDC for further research on gun violence, including investigations into violent video games and movies and their relationship to gun violence.
Biden lamented the lack of information from such studies Thursday, saying his push for more data on the topic had made him unpopular among those products' manufacturers.
"That's not an indictment of the industry, it's a recognition we have not got modern studies on these things," he said.
He also stressed the need for "mental health parity" within the health care system that would ensure patients with psychological afflictions are treated with the same urgency and seriousness as people with physical disorders. That shift is essential in preventing further violence, Biden said.
He pointed to parts of Obama's plan that aim to make mental health screening more widespread in schools, with the goal of reaching 750,000 young people who need help from mental health professionals.
Also key is ensuring patients who receive Medicaid funding for mental health care aren't aged out when they turn 19. That problem, he said, comes when patients still need care but aren't able to pay for it.